These past few weeks has been quite a whirlwind since coming home from the Writer’s Digest Conference. I had the opportunity to meet and go out to a yummy dinner of meatballs (vegan meatballs, of course) with the author/speaker Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela has her own novel called DIY MFA, which really shines a light on the craft of writing as well as the business of being an author. So, it was a nice surprise to see that Gabriela had sent out her DIY MFA newsletter to us attendees that discussed an important, yet often overlooked, issue about being a writer. In this newsletter, she answers her question of the week, which is, “How many new release books should a writer read in their genre?”
I was so inspired by her answer that I thought I’d make a post of my own that combines her response, which is a simple outline that anybody can follow, with mine, which details the specific books to be on the lookout for in the YA contemporary genre. But to answer the original question, the answer is going to be different for everyone since each person has their own pacing. So, to best answer this question, Gabriela ignores the quantity you should aim for but rather focuses on the quality and types of books you should be reading. This consists of two lists – an essential list and then a customized list.
On the essential list, you need to cover your ABC’s.
A is for Anthology of Short Form Literature.
I recommend the Norton’s Anthology of Children’s Literature for both YA and MG authors. This is a great way to get short bursts of inspiration in children’s books, middle grade and YA. I love the section that focuses on fairytale retellings in YA. It’s so fascinating and wonderfully detailed.
B is for Book of Prompts
I have yet to purchase a book of prompts, but Gabriela has great recommendations including the Now Write! series edited by Sherry Ellis. This series has specific genre-related books to help YA/MG authors too.
C is for Craft Reference
A reference book will help you when you have questions about character development, or setting, or plot. For YA, I recommend Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults.
Now, for the customized list. This relates to what you want to write. You’ll have to follow Gabriella’s Four C’s to build up this list.
1. Competitive (Comp) Titles: These books are books that compare to your own work. It helps to know what books are already on the market that are similar to yours, since it’s useful to use comps in pitches/query letters to agents. It shows that you know the YA genre and how your book fits into it. So, for my comp title I use David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite meets Little Miss Sunshine. You only need 1-2 comps, so that’s the good thing. Just keep an eye on new books (no more than 2-3 years old) and see which book is most similar to yours.
2. Contextual Books: These books put your novel into context, including references and research materials. This is really important to have in mind if you are writing YA Historical Fiction, which is a booming sub-genre within YA. I currently have these research books, for an idea I have for a MG I want to write.
3. Contemporary (Recent) Books: This reiterates the same idea with comps where you want to try to read a couple new releases in YA each year. For this though, I would try to aim for the last 18 months. That way you know who’s new in your genre as well as stay on top of trends. I really enjoyed the great depiction of mental illness and the process of recovery as a recent theme in YA in such books like Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella and The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati. But I also love the diversity and portrayal of immigrants in books like The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
4. Classics: These aren’t just “old” books, but rather leading books that helped create and/or shape the YA genre. For me, I believe J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye to be the first YA novel and I recommend it to those trying to master the art of tone and voice.
So, I hope I was able to narrow down Gabriella’s advice to the YA genre. I love this community of YA authors and I can’t wait to see it grow and develop as a genre. And more importantly, I can’t wait to see my writing evolve within this genre as well.